D.C. United fell in the first round of the playoffs. But their late-season surge has left them dreaming of more. Thankfully for the club, the path to being elite is not a long one.
They cut forlorn figures, the D.C. United players, after falling to the Columbus Crew in a painful penalty shootout. But once the misery of falling at the first hurdle of the playoffs had passed, it was clear that there was much to be positive about from this 2018 season.
Yes, many had tipped them to challenge the might of the Red Bulls and Atlanta in the Eastern Conference playoffs, such was their blistering form through the latter stages of the regular season. And yes, losing to the Crew was certainly not on the cards of a successful season’s end.
But that should not detract from the groundwork that has been put in place for the club to now challenge in the elite tier of MLS for years to come. As General Manager Dave Kasper said in an interview mlssoccer.com this week:
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"“We feel like our starting points are very good moving into next year compared with years past.”"
That is indeed the case for D.C. There is the obvious introduction of Wayne Rooney and the fact that they will now have him for a full season. But there is also a growing depth and youth in the squad that is extremely exciting for the seasons ahead.
Kasper later said:
"“Certainly, with the average age of the core of our roster, there’s up to eight starters under the age of 25, so there’s room to grow with a lot of these players as they enter into the prime of their careers.”"
Players like Luciano Acosta, who is in the process of being worked out a new deal after double digits in goals and assists, Russell Canouse, Paul Arriola, and Yamil Asad all played key roles last season and will not be leaving the club any time soon. This is a core around which D.C. can now build.
And more than just players, United finally have a home. Audi Field was opened in early July, much to the jubilation of the fans. There has also been investment into the training ground, the facilities that accompany the club, and a look into USL with new team Loudoun United, as Kasper explains here:
"“The infrastructure investment is key, and we see that with a modern training facility, we’ve seen the investment in USL, what that’s doing for clubs. That’s obviously a key part of our strategic investment. The infrastructure, those things will help us get back to the days where we were top in the league on a consistent basis.”"
It is that last sentence that really lays out the goal for D.C. over these coming years: to be at the ‘top in [sic] the league on a consistent basis.’ For United, they want to be seen as a consistently elite club, year in, year out.
And that may seem like a haughty aim, a task slightly unachievable. But with the groundwork that has been put in, the players that been acquired, and the investment that has come, the path is not as nearly as long as it first may seem.